clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Google's Eric Schmidt calls NSA surveillance 'outrageous'

New, 66 comments

After leaked documents apparently revealed that the NSA has been collecting Google and Yahoo user information as it travels between servers, Google executive Eric Schmidt says the American surveillance program is violating everyone's privacy for the sake of catching a few suspicious messages. "It's really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that's true," he told The Wall Street Journal's Deborah Kan. "The steps that the organization was willing to do without good judgment to pursue its mission and potentially violate people's privacy, it's not okay. It's just not okay."

Schmidt argued that the risk of terrorism doesn't justify secret mass surveillance. "Let's start with appropriate oversight and appropriate transparency," he said. "There clearly are cases where evil people exist, but you don't have to violate the privacy of every single citizen in America in order to find them!" He referenced a statement by NSA head Keith Alexander, who said in June that fewer than 300 numbers were used to query the agency's massive phone record database: "The NSA allegedly collected the phone records of 320 million people in order to identify roughly 300 people who might be a risk. It's just bad public policy."

"It's just bad public policy."

Google has previously assailed the secrecy of decisions made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which forbids companies to disclose how much information they've given to the government or how many requests they've received. A pending lawsuit argues that revealing some information would not threaten the US intelligence community, and that national security gag orders are a First Amendment violation that damages Google's public image by not letting it set the record straight. The company is also one of several lobbying Congress to reform the NSA by introducing more limits and transparency, and it's steadily denied providing anything more than the bare minimum of information to intelligence agencies.

In his interview, Schmidt also discussed Google's other policy decisions, like its withdrawal from mainland China in 2010. "China's censorship regime has gotten significantly worse since we left," he said, "so something would have to change before we come back." While Google has left China, Schmidt himself has been visiting countries like Burma and North Korea, attempting to chip away at restrictions that keep citizens offline and isolated. His next move, he told Kan, will be Cuba — whose locked-down internet traffic was carried across slow satellite links for years before an underwater cable was finally turned on earlier this year.